An in-depth dual biography of two accomplished spinsters who never met.
British author Veevers works for the Wordsworth Trust and, as Anna Dean, writes popular historical mysteries featuring Dido Kent as a savvy detective in Georgian England (A Place of Confinement, 2012, etc.). In this entertaining biography, written in an intimate, personal style, the author employs a chronological narrative to explore the different ways in which these two women responded to the obstacles presented by Georgian society. They “were not simply products of their time. They made choices in their lives, and it was those choices which defined them.” Veevers uses Austen’s Dashwood sisters from Sense and Sensibility as markers: Jane (1775-1817) was more “cautious” and sensible like Elinor, while Dorothy (1717-1855), with her eagerness in everything, sorrows or joys, was “impetuous” like Marianne. Dorothy was an orphan who was separated from her brothers early on, while Jane’s life was more stable, allowing her to spend more time with her much-loved brothers. Jane had more formal education, but they were both intelligent, well-read, and loved to write. Jane had her novels, Dorothy her letters, poetry, and journals. The Austen family members were traditional Anglicans; Dorothy lived in more freethinking households. In an age when marriage was seen as a must for women, Jane, although she had her suitors, was never in love. Dorothy, Veevers writes, believed it “would be ‘absurd’ for her to think of marriage.” When her beloved poet-brother William married Mary Hutchinson in 1802, they all lived together in Dove Cottage. William “attempted to bind her to him more firmly than ever.” Veevers is adamant that there is “nothing to suggest that [Dorothy’s love for him] was—at its beginning—a sexual attraction.” Their close friend Thomas De Quincey was quick to deny it, as well. William was the “emotional centre” of Dorothy’s world.
A well-researched, wonderfully told story of two women of their times.